COOL for MT. Work set to begin on meat labeling law
By BECKY BOHRER –
AP Farm Writer – 02/13/06
Helena Independent Record
BILLINGS — Work is set to begin next week on a plan to implement a state law requiring that meat sold in Montana grocery and other stores be labeled to show country of origin.
An advisory council charged with writing rules for the so-called placarding law plans to hold its first meeting Feb. 22. The hope is to have a rough draft of rules — or at the least some ‘‘very good ideas in place to make a first draft’’ — by the end of the day, said Jack Kane, chief of the weights and measures bureau in the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
The department will oversee the labeling program. Inspectors from the weights and measures bureau now visit Montana retailers about twice a year, Kane said.
‘‘The time for discussing whether this (labeling) is a good idea or bad idea is long gone,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re here now, so let’s make rules palatable to all involved.’’
The law requires retailers to post placards denoting the country of origin for beef, lamb, pork and poultry products. If the origin of the product is unknown, that must be disclosed, as well.
Kane said the burden to verify the origin of meat will fall on retailers. Those unable or unwilling to do the task would mark the meat as ‘‘country of origin unknown,’’ he said.
Supporters say the law will help consumers who want to know where their food is from and cattle producers seeking an edge in the marketplace. Critics fear consumers will be bombarded with signs indicating an unknown origin, particularly for products such as hamburger, which may have more than one source.
The American Meat Institute also has argued that federal law pre-empts the Montana law and precludes the state from requiring labeling that is different from, or in addition to, what federal law requires.
Bill Donald, a rancher and president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said his group supports meat labeling philosophically but believes such a program should be driven from the national, rather than the state, level.
State Agriculture Director Nancy K. Peterson and rancher Dan Teigen, both of whom are on the advisory committee, say Montana can be a leader on the issue. A mandatory national program was delayed again last fall, this time until 2008.
Montana’s law is set to take effect Oct. 1.
‘‘There’s an element of the industry here, taking care of themselves here, rather than waiting for the big three (meat) packers to take care of us,’’ Teigen said.
The advisory committee has plenty of work to do. It must decide, among other things, what the placards will look like, the range of products that will be subject to labeling and guidelines for determining origin, Kane said.
‘‘This is so new,’’ said Margaret Novak, a Chester grocer on the panel. ‘‘Everything we say is hypothetical at this point.’’
Kane said the public will have an opportunity to comment on the rules, once they are proposed.